Modernistic Tomato Soup

Canned tomato soup has its charms. Or at least so believes Wayland Gladstone Hier, who, in The Manufacture of Tomato Products: Including Whole Tomato Pulp or Puree, Tomato Catsup, Chili Sauce, Tomato Soup, Trimming Pulp (1919), tells us that “canned tomato soup is a commodity which is increasing in favor with the housewife.” She is lured, Hier explains, by its easy modernity. “How much more convenient the modern way is,” he writes, “and when the quality is just as good and often better than can be obtained the long troublesome way, it is natural that canned tomato soup should become increasingly popular.” Canned tomato soup, Hier concludes, “is also cheaper than buying the canned tomatoes and making the soup from them.”

If you too find canned tomato soup an alluring food, but think it too insipid for the dinner table, try the following “modernistic” recipe for tomato soup with stock from Jessie Marie De Both’s Modernistic Recipe-Menu Book of the DeBoth Homemaker’s Cooking School (1929). It’s economical and avant-garde (by early-twentieth-century standards, that is).

Tomato Soup with Stock

1 chopped onion… 2 whole cloves… 1/2 teaspoon celery seed… 6 each peppercorns and tomatoes, or 1 qt canned tomatoes… 1 tablespoon flour… 1 tablespoon shortening

Take bones and trimmings from roast beef or steak. Cover with cold water, twice as much as the meat, add seasonings and cook slowly 2 1/2 hours. Skim off fat, add tomatoes (cook 1/2 hour if fresh tomatoes are used). Skim out bones and meat, and strain liquor through a puree strainer, rubbing all the pulp through. Heat, thicken with flour cooked with the shortening. Serves 8

Crawfish Bisque

The crawfish (also known as a crayfish or crawdad, depending on the region) is a freshwater crustacean resembling a lobster. Frequently found in brooks and steams, the crawfish prefers to live in only the cleanest water. The greatest number and diversity of crawfish are found in south-eastern North America, where they are caught and prepared in a number of appetizing and economical ways.

But only a small portion of the crawfish is edible–usually the tail. Crawfish therefore feature frequently in soups, stews and bisques. Sometimes the claws of larger specimens can be cracked open and meat extracted; because of the larger amount of flesh they provide, these larger specimens feature frequently in dishes like low country boils, where the advice is to “suck the head; pinch the tail.”

Here is a recipe from an 1887 edition of Good Housekeeping for crawfish bisque. Use your food processor instead of the suggested mortar to save time. Serve the bisque with a crusty French bread and a green salad.

Crawfish Bisque

Take fifty crawfish, wash them in several waters, and put them in a saucepan over a brisk fire. Add to them salt, whole black pepper, and butter the size of an egg, with a little grated nutmeg. Stir with a spoon for one-half hour. When cooked, drain the crawfish, free them from the shells, and mash the meat in a mortar. Boil one cup of rice in the crawfish bouillon for a quarter of an hour, drain it and put it in the mortar with the crawfish, pounding it well. Put all back into the saucepan, thin it with the bouillon and pass it through a sieve. Mash the crawfish shells, add bouillon in which they were cooked, and strain it through a sieve into the crawfish and rice puree. It then should be of a reddish color. Put this into a saucepan over a moderate fire, not letting it boil, but it must be very hot. Put some toasted bread in the tureen, add to the broth one wineglassful of Madeira wine, and pour over toast. Serve immediately.

Lovage Soup Base

Lovage has long been used in Southern European cuisine. Sometimes known as Maggikraut because its taste resembles the popular soup seasoning by the same name, lovage imparts a delicately sweet flavor reminiscent of celery to foods. It can be used to make tea, intensely flavored vinegars, cordials or pastes intended for soup stock.

Medicinally it is frequently used as an antiseptic or a tonic to stimulate appetite. And should you wish to plant it in your garden, it will improve the health of all plants near it, much like borage drives away pests.

Eleanour Sinclair Rohde, in her delightful 1922 book A Garden of Herbs: Being a Practical Handbook to the Making of an Old English Herb Garden, tells us that “lovage was one of the herbs introduced by the Romans, and until the middle of the last century it was always grown in English herb gardens.” She reports that, according to an authority on the subject by the name of Parkinson, “the whole plant and every part of it smelleth somewhat strongly and aromatically and of a hot, sharpe, biting taste. The Germans and other Nations in times past used both the roote and seede instead of Pepper to season their meates and brothes and found them as comfortable and warming.”

Below is a German recipe for a soup stock base made from lovage (the original can be found at Use a spoonful or two in stews and soup to add a depth and complexity of flavor to your meals. It will last in the refrigerator for several weeks or, if you can the paste, it will last a year or so.

Lovage Soup Stock Base (translated from the German)

1/2 celery root, peeled and cut in pieces
10 carrots, cleaned and cut in pieces
3 leeks, cleaned and cut in pieces
2 onions, skinned and cut in pieces
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and pressed
2 tomatoes, cut in pieces
1 bunch of lovage, cut finely
1 bunch of parsley
1 tbsp. salt
10 pieces of pimento

Put about 1/2 cup of water in a large pot and cook all of the above ingredients until soft. Add salt to taste (it should not overwhelm the delicate flavor of the herbs and vegetables). Put the cooked mass into a food processor and chop until the whole forms a firm mixture (it shouldn’t be too runny). Keep in refrigerator for a few weeks or proceed as for canning.